A paper by Michael Orton for Compass identifies a major problem in terms of insecurity, focusing on jobs, the standard of living, early years and housing. There’s much in his description of insecurity that I agree with. The prescriptions, however – such things as investment in low-carbon industries, improving productivity and legislating for the current commitment to increase the minimum wage – don’t do very much to address the problems. If we want security in terms of benefits, we have to rethink the principle of ‘personalisation’ and slow down the rate and frequency with which benefits alter. If we want greater security in housing, we have to have a massive increase in housebuilding, far beyond the “self-financing” increase that the paper proposes, and the restablishment of general needs subsidies in place of personalised benefits.
The biggest gap between the issues and the proposals lies in jobs. Insecurity in jobs is fed by three great vices: casualisation, lack of redress and the treatment of ‘self-employment’ as a device to avoid regulation of employers. In relation to self-employment, employers must be liable to respect all employment rights, including liabilities for tax and national insurance payments, for any periodic contract (that is, any contract where a person is paid for services in equivalent consecutive time-periods). To offer basic security with casual labour, employers have to be liable to pay the minimum wage for all periods where they retain people on call. And for all employees and sub-contractors, there has to be an accessible, comprehensive system offering access to justice and redress, because without that the other rights will be flouted.